Edinburgh bin strikes: Festival goers urged to take their rubbish home as venue boss warns of public safety risk

Organisers of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe have urged people to take their own rubbish home from the event – as one of its biggest venue operators warned of a risk to public safety from the growing piles of garbage around the city centre.

William Burdett-Coutts, whose venues include the Assembly Rooms on George Street and the Assembly Hall on The Mound, described the state of the city’s streets as “shocking” as the Fringe’s final week coincided with industrial action by refuse workers in the city.

The Ladyboys of Bangkok have been among the Fringe performers to take to the streets to tackle the rubbish left lying beside unemptied bins.

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Crunch talks to take place over Edinburgh's crippling bin strike
Cast and crew from The Ladyboys of Bangkok have been clearing rubbish up outside their venue on Lothian Road. Picture: Duncan McGlynn

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    Business leaders warned the ongoing strike by council cleansing staff was damaging the city’s reputation and risked deterring visitors from returning in future.

    Essential Edinburgh, which represents more than 650 hotels, venues, bars and restaurants in the New Town, said the dispute – which has seen rubbish start to pile up since strike action began on Thursday – had had a “huge impact” on the city at its busiest time of the year.

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    The group, which businesses pay an annual levy for extra services, said it was looking at how to “pro-actively manage on-street public litter bins” while the dispute was ongoing.

    Firms have also been brought in to keep areas run by Fringe venues and official street performance areas in the Old and New Towns as clear of rubbish.

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    The Ladyboys of Bangkok have been cleaning up outside their Fringe venue on Lothian Road. Picture: Duncan McGlynn

    A plea posted by the Fringe Society on social media said: “Regarding the litter in Edinburgh – we appreciate the current situation is frustrating for residents and visitors.

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    “The bin strikes are Scotland-wide and we hope a resolution is found soon. In the meantime, please help by taking litter home with you.”

    Mr Burdett-Coutts said: “There is a stark contrast from the venues, where we are all cleaning up and everything is under control, to going in the streets and here it is obviously not and there is rubbish everywhere.

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    “I am concerned about areas where there are crowds of people that it is not really safe. You could very easily slide on something.

    A bin overflowing with litter on Castle Street in Edinburgh city centre. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
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    “It is not a great look for Edinburgh at a point where it has its first great showcase of the year. It is a shame it is looking so shabby. When I’m coming in in the morning, it is pretty shocking as there is so much of it about.

    “As ever in these circumstances, it needs all sides to come together in the best interests of the city as it looked terrible at the weekend.

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    “To have a bin strike on top of everything else we have had this year is a killer.”

    Binky Beaumont, Ladyboys tour director, said: “As the bins were getting quite full, our whole team have decided to clean up the front of the show and surrounding area ourselves each day during our stay at Festival Square.

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    Overflowing bin on Edinburgh's Royal Mile during the final week of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Picture: Katielee Arrowsmith

    “We hope the situation is resolved soon, but wanted to do our bit around the square to keep it looking lovely for our visitors and the neighbours.”

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    Comedian Matt Forde, who is among the Fringe performers to share images of the city’s rubbish-strewn streets, said: “I’ve never seen Edinburgh this filthy.

    "There’s so much litter, it’s clogging the gutters. Food waste is strewn across the streets.

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    "All this is happening just as the world has returned to this beautiful place. Every day it’s worse. Where is the political leadership?”

    Roddy Smith, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, said: “Essential Edinburgh represents the interests of over 650 city centre businesses, and we are committed to ensuring our city centre area is as clean and attractive as possible. Therefore our dedicated clean team service are prioritising cleaning around the on-street public litter bins and removing any over-spill during this time.

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    “The clean team are an added value service for our levy-paying businesses and do not replicate any statutory service provided by the council such as public litter bin emptying.

    "We are looking at solutions to proactively manage on-street public litter bins during the strike to ensure our operational area remains an attractive environment to trade in and visit, including cleaning areas around the bins with increased staff.

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    "This is, of course, a sticking plaster compared to what needs done, which is a return to work of the bin workers and our city centre returning to a clean and attractive state.

    “Although we understand the bin workers' right to strike and the reasons they are undertaking this action, they have undoubtedly had a huge impact on our city at its busiest time of the year.

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    "This, of course, is the objective, but it is having a hugely detrimental effect on the look of our city centre.

    "The business community relies heavily on residents and tourists coming into the city centre and making a positive impression on them so they return again.

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    "Guests in our wonderful city must be very disappointed in how the city looks at present, which I am sure will be passed on to others thinking of visiting.

    "We, along with everyone, hope the strike can be resolved as soon as possible, and the workers start clearing the backlog in the city.

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    "We urge all involved to resolve this dispute as soon as possible. The longer this goes on, the more harm is being done to our city’s reputation.”

    Leading Fringe performers will be appearing at a benefit night for refuse workers in the city on Wednesday.

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    Mark Thomas, Jason Byrne, Jo Caulfield, Kiri Pritchard-McLean, Mark Nelson, Shazia Mirza, Susie McCabe, Rachel Fairburn, Vladimir McTavish and Danny Bhoy are all confirmed for the “Stand Up For The Bin Workers” show at the Stand Comedy Club.

    Thomas said: “These are the workers who got us through Covid and now they are being told to take a real cut in their wages. It’s unacceptable and they deserve our support in fighting back.”